In the report titled “Women, Business and the Law 2020,” the World Bank revealed how Saudi Arabia’s laws occupying the space of women have improved. The kingdom garnered a score of 70.6 points out of 100, a significant increase from its previous score of 31.8.
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Saudi Arabia was deemed to be the country that made “the biggest improvement globally” since 2017.
The report has found that the kingdom has actually enacted reforms in six out of eight indicators examined in the report from June 2017 to Sept. 2019. The reforms touch on women’s rights in the workplace, women’s freedom of movement, and the criminalization of sexual harassment among other things.
“Saudi Arabia basically has become one of the leaders in the Arab world in terms of women empowerment,” said Issam Abu Sulaiman, World Bank’s Regional Director for the GCC, in a statement.
Over the two-year period, Saudi Arabia amended or reversed several laws that previously affected a woman’s freedom of movement. Saudi women can now drive, travel without the permission of a male guardian, and apply for passports … all on their own. Women in the kingdom were previously banned from doing all those things without male consent. In addition to those things, Saudi mothers were also given the right to apply for passports for children in their custody and approve travel abroad, something that was previously a male-exclusive privilege.
In 2018, Saudi Arabia further criminalized sexual harassment in both the public and private sectors, enhancing the workplace environment for women as they often fall victim to such violence. Women are now protected legally from “discrimination in employment, including job advertisements and hiring, and prohibit employers from dismissing a woman during her entire pregnancy and maternity leave,” as pointed out in the report.
Saudi Arabia also adjusted the retirement age for women to match that of men; the retirement age for both is now 60 years old. Women in Saudi Arabia witnessed many firsts over the course of these two years, and it’s expected to see more unfold in this decade. Many of these changes are happening in line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. Under the ambitious plan, more jobs have opened up to Saudi women. Saudi Arabia’s unemployment rate for females has dropped significantly in the past few years, proving just how serious the kingdom is about its reforms.
Globally speaking, 40 economies have enacted 62 reforms enhancing gender equality since 2017, as stated in the report. Saudi Arabia wasn’t the only Arab economy to have witnessed progress. Others that have been highlighted in the report for their improvements include the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, Tunisia, and Djibouti.
Countries that received a score of 100 (meaning their laws are practically gender-neutral) include Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg, and Sweden.
Here are the scores of all Arab countries to put things in perspective:
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